The Inside Track on the Fred Winter Hurdle
Only two types of horses ever seem to win the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle; French horses who nobody (including the handicapper) has ever heard of, and classy flat horses who have been so poor all winter that their hurdle mark looks a bit like their flat mark.
I’m not very good at identifying those in the first-named category because I haven’t heard of them, so I tend to focus on the classy flat horses, and the one who jumps off the page this season is GOODWOOD MIRAGE.
This son of Jeremy (coincidentally the daddy of 2013 Triumph Hurdle hero Our Conor) was on the cusp of winning Listed races on the level when Lady Bamford stepped in with a cheque of £380k to secure his services for a winter campaign, and she wasted no time in sending her new purchase to Cheltenham legend Jonjo O’Neill.
Connections probably realised Goodwood Mirage wasn’t going to win the Triumph when he scrambled home on his Kempton jumping debut, and on his next two runs he looked like a horse who was waiting for a rating.
The handicapper isn’t silly and a mark of 132 overestimates the ability that he has thus far demonstrated over obstacles, but if this was a flat race he would lap half of them and I’ll be betting him to dramatically improve for the application of a decent prize at the Festival.
As for a lively rag, Halling’s Treasure would be my selection for last year’s winning combo of Andrew Balding and Gordon Elliott, but he will struggle to get in off 122, so I’m going to take a chance on Chris Pea Green’s half-brother Violet Dancer.
Trainer Gary Moore is a different class with handicap hurdlers and he quickly spotted the jumping potential with this one because, despite the gelding running to 80 in a hot Kempton maiden, he roughed him off in the summer to prepare him for a juvenile campaign.
That faith was repaid in no uncertain terms with impressive victories at Plumpton and Sandown and, after a couple of reversals on shocking ground, he looks weighted to out-run big odds off a perch of 130.
Selection: Goodwood Mirage
Alternative: Violet Dancer